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Epidemiologist: Orioles-Marlins series in Baltimore far too risky to go on

Oriole Park at Camden Yards
Oriole Park at Camden Yards (Julio Cortez/AP)

An epidemiologist who has been vocal about MLB’s restart plan strongly advised against the Orioles hosting the Miami Marlins for their home opener Wednesday. The Orioles were awaiting word from Major League Baseball on whether they would be able to host the Marlins, who are experiencing professional sports’ worst COVID-19 outbreak since play resumed this month.

Zachary Binney, an epidemiologist at Oxford College of Emory University in Atlanta, said that if he were advising Maryland and the Orioles on how to proceed, he’d tell Governor Larry Hogan to “send the state patrol to set up a roadblock … on I-95 and do not let the Marlins into your state.

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Hours later Major League Baseball announced that it was changing the schedule and the Orioles would host the New York Yankees instead, while the Marlins’ season would be suspended until at least Sunday. The Philadelphia Phillies, who were supposed to host the Yankees on Wednesday and Thursday, won’t play until at least Friday.

“And if I’m advising the Orioles, I’d be advising them to pull every lever they can with the league office to postpone or cancel that series in Baltimore as well,” said Binney, who has a doctorate in epidemiology and has applied his expertise to sports injury and illness. “MLB should be the ones putting on their big-boy pants and making that decision.

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“I didn’t foresee it being left up to individual teams, or even worse than that potentially, the players. They shouldn’t be the ones having to make this decision. It should be the office of the commissioner, and they should be making that decision with the players and staff and their families and the community’s health in the front of their minds. Trying to play a game on Wednesday between the Marlins and the Orioles would be very much against that.”

The Orioles are back in Baltimore after returning from Miami a day early, and the Marlins remain in Philadelphia, where they began the season and saw their positive tests grow by the day.

It began with one positive test Friday, then three Wednesday, and seven more for players on Monday. According to multiple reports, including ESPN and the Athletic, the Marlins had four more positive tests Tuesday, though none of the Phillies players tested positive.

Binney said two days of test wasn’t enough to clear the Marlins to play.

“That certainly would not be safe because the virus has an incubation period.” Binney said. “Let’s say that in the clubhouse, somebody who was sick transmitted it to another member of the Marlins on Sunday while they were in the clubhouse.

“That person would not test positive until, at minimum, a test administered on Tuesday — and quite possibly more like Thursday or Friday. So, you have to wait for this virus to rear its head and to make sure that you have your arms around the entire outbreak.”

That would put the Orioles players and staff at risk at Camden Yards, though Binney said MLB may have “inadvertently” conducted an experiment by allowing the Marlins and Phillies to play Sunday despite evidence of an outbreak in the Miami clubhouse.

“This will be a very small sample size that we have, but if nobody gets sick on the Phillies — which I think is a real possibility — then that would give us a little more confidence that the virus doesn’t spread easily in games,” Binney said. “We saw it could rip through the Marlins, but they’re spending time together in the clubhouse, the dugout, bus, stuff like that. That may be where the transmission is occurring rather than anything on the field.

“Continuing to play or trying to bring them back too quickly, honestly, puts their people at more risk than it probably does the Orioles,” Binney said.

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